I have a special reverence for Lincoln and the Lincoln Memorial.
I was born and raised in East Africa; I'm an immigrant to the United States. I grew up in East Africa. I grew up with gender inequality, where women did not participate socially, politically, economically, legally. My home country of origin is now a failed state. We have a civil war, as a result of that, there's no one in charge. There is no unity, there's no law and order. So what you have is, people who are armed, and at the point of gun, they tell you what your rights are. You can't get the basic things in life; you can't go and earn a living. You can't go to the market and bring food to your home without the fear of molestation. You can't put a seed and hope to see it grow. So, you know, it's not an academic thing, it's not a philosophic thing, it is about survival. It is about seeing the next day.
It is what could have happed to the United States had Lincoln not stepped in and forcefully united the United States and created equality for all. He was focused on the most important thing and that is, "Let's work out our differences within the framework of what already exists. Let's work it out while you are still part of the union." You can't break apart every time differences emerge. Because if you follow that to its logical conclusion, you keep having breakups all the way down to maybe hamlets, maybe house next to another house. Now that's what we have in East Africa, is that break up of the nation to smaller and smaller parts and we have no rights, we have no unity, we have nothing. So, if you're going to build a nation, it has to accommodate differences. And it can be worked out through the legal system, it can be deliberated morally, somehow you have to understand that you can be on two different sides, morally apart, somehow have to live together. So he was right in insisting on unity first, unity second, unity last.
It's my fortune that I find myself in the United States and a citizen of the United States no less. And I have all kinds of opportunities; I feel I'm a fully enfranchised African-American, a female African-American. And all that I have as a citizen, and I hope to have, I attribute it to Abraham Lincoln.
Standing at the Lincoln Memorial chamber, I see the people coming up the steps in their multitudes. Hundreds, thousands, daily, every single day of the year, they come. And almost a hundred and fifty years after he passed, they are still coming. My hope is that people will take away his wisdom and his healing words will make their way around the world. And maybe even back to my home.
Lincoln is for everybody.